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Good Reads  Ornithology  Birds: General

When There Were Birds The Forgotten History of Our Connections

By: Roy Adkins(Author), Lesley Adkins(Author)
504 pages, 16 plates with b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Publisher: Abacus
Longlisted for the 2023 SHNH Natural History Book Prize (Thackray Medal).
When There Were Birds
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  • When There Were Birds ISBN: 9780349144474 Paperback Mar 2023 In stock
  • When There Were Birds ISBN: 9781408713570 Hardback Nov 2021 In stock
    £14.99 £24.99
Selected version: £12.99
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

For centuries, birds have been seen as a source of food, feathers and even fuel, and being so numerous, many were persecuted as pests. When There Were Birds is a social history of Britain that charts the complex connections between people and birds, set against a background of changes in the landscape and evolving tastes, beliefs and behaviour. Birds were once key elements of the nation's history, traditions and sports, and this gave rise to a rich legacy of literature, language and myths.

No other group of animals has had such a complex and lengthy relationship with humankind. Birds have been kept in cages as pets, taught to speak and displayed as trophies. More practically, they have been used to tell the time, predict the weather, foretell marriages, provide unlikely cures for ailments, convey messages and warn of poisonous gases.

Although very familiar, birds have often seemed strange, sinister and alarming. With their ability to fly, they bridged the gap between the earth and the heavens, and superstitions were rife because they were presumed to be linked to the supernatural. When There Were Birds draws together many disparate, forgotten strands to present a story that is an intriguing and unexpectedly significant part of our heritage.

Customer Reviews


Lesley Adkins is a historian and archaeologist, author of numerous critically acclaimed non-fiction books on social and naval history, and also on archaeology and the ancient world. Her books (mostly written with her husband Roy Adkins) include Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History, Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England (called Jane Austen's England in the US), Jack Tar: Life in Nelson's Navy, The War for All the Oceans, Empires of the Plain, and The Keys of Egypt. They have been translated into several languages worldwide. She lives near Exeter in Devon.

By: Roy Adkins(Author), Lesley Adkins(Author)
504 pages, 16 plates with b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Publisher: Abacus
Longlisted for the 2023 SHNH Natural History Book Prize (Thackray Medal).
Media reviews

"When There Were Birds is a marvellously original slice of social history, a portrait of our ever-conflicted relationship with the natural world which we so abuse and which we cannot live without; a book beautifully balanced between wonder and warning"
– Christopher Hart, Daily Mail (Book of the Week)

"A wonderful book [...] the perfect gift for Christmas this year for a bird lover [...] In fact, no, bird lovers are fine, buy it for someone that hates birds and see if you can turn them round"
– Giles Coren, Times Radio

"This book is [...] not only a fascinating browse of all sorts of stories about the past, but it's a real revelation actually [...] it's really going to encourage you to think about birds and the part they played historically and culturally"
– Guy de la Bédoyère

"An appealing social history of Britain that charts the relationship between people and birds [with] a lot of quirky information"
– Martin Chilton, The Independent

"The book is absolutely packed with wonderful stories. You've really researched it to pieces [...] I hope that this book inspires and galvanises those that want to protect birds"
– Steve Yabsley, BBC Radio Bristol

"The facts and folklore of birdlife, and man's equivocal relationship with birds, are dissected in admirable detail in this handsome new book [...] [with] striking revelations"
– Roland White, Sunday Times

"This is a substantial social history of our interactions with the bird life of these isles [...] With its wide-ranging, informative text, extensive notes, and commendably comprehensive index, When There Were Birds makes its own vital contribution to our perception of our relationship with creation, providing further stimulus for us to achieve an environmental renaissance"
– Richard Greatrex, Church Times

"When There Were Birds by historians Roy and Lesley Adkins charts humanity's changing relationship with birds, from the ancient Egyptians to the 21st century"
Choice Magazine, Great New Year Reads

"The sheer breadth of information reflects every part of life on earth. And that's what makes it such a worthwhile read"
– Annette Shaw, Devon Life

"Unusually for a book about nature, the species in question, in this lucid story of the relationship between birds and humans, is ours [...] An evocative chapter, 'Abundance', assembles descriptions of a British landscape so vivid you feel you almost remember it [...] There are no dodos in this book"
– Horatio Clare, The Spectator

"The book is a beautiful, yet original portrait of the integral role played by birds throughout history [...] The social history of ornithology is injected with passion by Roy and Lesley Adkins, who are masters of their craft, welcoming readers to unexpected topics [...] Readers, flock to this tome."
– Emma J Wells, BBC Countryfile Magazine

"Every chapter is replete with anecdotes which, for me at least, made the book a page-turner [...] The authors used their research skills and experience to put a different type of book together, and I am grateful to them because it is a very good read [...] and I recommend it"
– Mark Avery

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